Published in the first issue of (re)framing the international, the first part of this three-part text on Europe and culture focused on the importance of culture and art as the building blocks of European society. It is time now to look at how Europe actually deals with culture and what we can do in practice to push Europe in the right direction.
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The objective is to make a resolute choice for the reinforcement of culture and the arts in the European project. Not because they create jobs, not because they improve social cohesion, not because they are a catalyst of creativity and innovation, not because they contribute to our mental health, not because they are a tool by which to promote humanitarian values – but because of all of the above and most of all because without culture, there is no community. On the European level, this implies that we need to transform culture into a strong public policy and leave behind the weak amalgam of cultural policy decisions that the EU acts upon these days.
Since the Maastricht Treaty, there has been an amalgam of cultural measures and programmes that does not have the development of art and of access to culture in Europe as its primary objective, but focuses on supporting priorities chosen by Europe such as job creation and economic growth.
In order to take steps towards a strong European policy for culture, engaged action on three levels is needed and this, over a considerable length of time:
- We need to address our national policies for culture on the level of each member state and in the regions and cities. Through their cultural policies and their crucial role in EU policy-making, member states have important leverage and can make all the difference. We need a mind-shift about the key role of culture on all levels: European, national and regional.
- We need to fight for a new place for culture in official EU policy. Using the well-known political instruments, we need to continue to monitor and influence everyday EU policy-making.
- Simultaneously and outside the established institutions, we need to create a European commons for cooperation, collaboration and exchange. These commons can become active testing grounds for new ideas on societal models and breeding grounds for new EU priorities.
In this second part of the text, I will go into the first two points. The third line of approach, about the place of culture in a European commons, will be explored in the third issue of this publication.
Weighing on EU policy
To put a number of things in the right perspective, let’s recapitulate briefly… Culture has always been the runt of the litter in EU policy. It took 35 years before any mention was even made of culture in a European treaty and a paragraph was devoted to it. It is only with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 that that cultural paragraph (Article 151) was included. That laid a legal basis for the establishment of common actions in relation to culture. There was no talk of an actual cultural policy, neither after Maastricht nor even today. Those who were building the EU never realised what an essential and powerful building block culture can be for the European project. Following the principle of subsidiarity, they left this sector entirely up to the member states. Besides, the timorousness of the individual member states to give Europe a say in the field of culture (so closely connected, in the eyes of most politicians, with the notion of national identity), was much too great. The member states, represented in the European Council by Culture Ministers, have played skillfully since the 1970s with the complex decision-making rules of the European institutions to water down or even shred the more target-driven proposals of the European Parliament and the Commission’s at times further-reaching ideas in terms of supporting culture.
The result is that, since the Maastricht Treaty, there has been an amalgam of cultural measures and programmes that does not have the development of art and of access to culture in Europe as its primary objective, but focuses on supporting priorities chosen by Europe such as job creation and economic growth. Of course, a lot of good intentions in terms of culture have been, and are being, put forward by the European Parliament (Committee on Culture and Education) and the European Commission (DG Education and Culture). Likewise, public statements emphasise the importance of culture for a peaceful society and of intercultural dialogue and transnational collaboration. Unfortunately, we see that in practice, all of the EU’s culture-related initiatives are viewed from the perspective of the creative industry, the intercultural dialogue, mobility and the promotion of the idea of Europe. In 2015 the Directorate-General for Education and Culture still put it this way: “to promote culture as a catalyst for innovation, by maximising the sector’s contribution to jobs and growth, particularly among the young, and to promote our cultural diversity.” So, culture as a lubricant essentially.
Recently, culture was also given a place in Europe’s foreign policy. In mid 2016, the EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations was launched with the purpose of stimulating cultural collaboration between the EU and its international partners. Cultural diplomacy is being mobilised to promote the basic values of Europe such as peace, the rule of law, freedom of expression, mutual understanding and respect for fundamental human rights.
The EU has made a tangible contribution to the growing transnational practice of the arts sectors. And this, while most member states only gradually adjusted their international cultural policy aimed at promotion and bilateral collaboration to make room here and there for genuine international cooperation.
All this does not alter the fact that over the past quarter of a century, EU programmes have been created that have had a positive impact on the collaboration between European artists and art organisations, on the growth of European cultural networks and international festivals. From Kaleidoscope and Raphael in the 1990s via the Culture and Media programmes that followed to the current Creative Europe programme, the EU has supported cross-border mobility and collaboration. As such, the EU has made a tangible contribution to the growing transnational practice of the arts sectors. And this, while most member states only gradually adjusted their international cultural policy aimed at promotion and bilateral collaboration to make room here and there for genuine international cooperation.
Besides tangible support programmes, a number of flagship projects were also called into existence by the EU such as the European Heritage Days and the European Capitals of Culture. For virtually every arts sector, European prizes were created which reward excellence in an artistic branch (the EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award; the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage – Europa Nostra Award; the EU Prize for Literature; the EU Border Breakers Awards for rock, pop and dance; the EU Media Prize, etc.). Lastly, systems for European quality labels were also set up, such as the European Heritage Label and the Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe Label.
Cultural initiatives were also supported here and there indirectly within some other major EU programmes such as Interreg, Euro-Med, Framework 7 (scientific and technological research programmes), but only on condition that they served the other, non-cultural objectives.
On occasion, the European Commission showed alertness and flexibility. In 2016, for instance, a small but interesting initiative was called into being in response to the concrete needs of artists. Within the Creative Europe programme, a call was issued for cultural projects devoted to the inclusion of refugees and immigrants (unfortunately this call was not repeated). Another interesting initiative are the consultative processes set in motion with civil society. For instance, the annual Culture Forum seeks to offer a platform for debates about the EU’s cultural agenda and to build a bridge towards cultural actors. Unfortunately the agendas of these events are too often determined by the EU (such as during the recent Culture Forum in Brussels which focused, among others, on ‘culture’s contribution to the new Commission’s priorities such as innovation, jobs and growth’) and the conclusions of the debates rarely lead to concrete results.
A slight change seems to be in the making, now that Europe has started to feel the hot breath of populism on its neck and decision-makers are beginning to see that a feeling of Europeanness will not emerge spontaneously.
Let me say a few more words about the current programme for artistic collaboration across the Union’s interior borders: Creative Europe. This programme is the only subsidy instrument that plays a role in supporting artists and art organisations that want to establish international medium- and long-term collaborations in Europe. With its 209.6 million euros per year, it offers a chance at additional support that is not to be despised. Yet the programme is mere eyewash: the budget is insignificant, and the chance of succeeding equally so. But above all, the objectives set by the programme answer in the first instance to the EU’s economic logic and insufficiently to the needs and actual practice of artists and cultural actors themselves. For the selection of projects, artistic quality and sustainable cultural practices weigh less than economic and social criteria such as job creation, return on investment, quantitative audience reach and, the pre-eminent European platitude, innovation.
All in all, the impact of Creative Europe is therefore rather limited. And that has not only to do with the muddled objectives, but also with the degree of the financial means. The total budget for the Creative Europe programme (which covers support for film, literature, audiovisual productions, performing arts, music and visual art) comes to 1 billion 460 million euros for a seven-year period (2014-2020). This may be an increase of 9 per cent compared to the previous period, but it still barely represents more than 0.1 per cent of the total EU budget.
By comparison, European member states spend an average of 1 to 1.3 per cent of their total budget on culture (with two big spenders: Estonia, 3.2 per cent and Sweden, 2.6 per cent). Per year, about 209,600,000 euros are available for the Creative Europe programme for all 28 EU countries and some partner countries (i.e. more than 500 million inhabitants). That is less than what such a small country as Estonia, with its 1.3 million inhabitants, devotes to culture annually. Or, to remain closer to home, it is also significantly less than the 420 million euros that Flanders, with its 11 million inhabitants, devotes annually to culture. So you can easily say that, despite the rhetoric – ‘contributing to the flowering of cultures …’ – the EU hardly invests in culture.
And today? Things do not seem to be improving. On the occasion of its sixtieth anniversary, the EU produced in March 2017 a pretentious ‘Rome Declaration’ outlining its intentions for the future. Culture is given a half sentence in the paragraph on ‘A Social Europe’: “a Union which preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity”. During that same period, EU President Juncker presented his ‘White Paper’ that sketched possible scenarios for the future Europe, but not a single word was devoted to culture.
In recent months, a slight change seems to be in the making, now that Europe has started to feel the hot breath of populism on its neck and decision-makers are beginning to see that a feeling of Europeanness will not emerge spontaneously. At the European Summit in November 2017, the heads of state spoke for the first time about Education and Culture, generally a topic of minor importance which they prefer to leave to the relevant ministers.
So, before we can reach the ultimate goal, a strong policy for culture, a lot of work remains to be done.
In the meantime, there are fortunately a number of organisations and networks that have good intentions when it comes to culture in Europe and that, like fleas, keep reminding the EU of its inadequate cultural policy. Dozens of European networks do so from their sector-specific perspective and bombard the institutions with analyses and proposals. (For instance, IETM recently launched a sound mid-term assessment of the ongoing Creative Europe programme.)
An important and loud voice is that of Culture Action Europe, a European platform that was called into existence to strive for a more prominent role for culture within the European project. Founded in the 1990s by a number of cultural networks (among which IETM) as the European Forum for the Arts and Heritage (EFAH), CAE is today a voicing organisation with a solid membership basis of more than a hundred European cultural networks and organisations. As such, CAE has grown into a full-fledged interlocutor for the relevant European institutions. CAE monitors everything the EU undertakes (and fails to undertake) in the area of culture, while also keeping a critical eye on the activities of the Creative Europe programme and regularly holding awareness-raising campaigns about current political topics. It recently organised a wide-ranging survey within the cultural world in Europe about Juncker’s five possible future scenarios. And the conclusion was that none of the five was satisfactory. That is why CAE and its supporters put forward a sixth way, in which the positive force of culture is formally recognised and plays a substantial role.
Because culture does not belong strictly speaking to the EU’s policy area, the scope of the European Ministers or Secretaries of State for Culture is limited.
Through their declarations and campaigns, artists and cultural heavyweights regularly raise their voice to convince European politicians and officials that they are making a serious mistake by ignoring culture. In 2004, for instance, an Appeal by the Cultural World: For a Europe Founded on its Culture was jointly launched by Bernard Foccroulle. In 2004 a group of experienced and committed professionals from the European cultural sector founded A Soul for Europe, with its seat in Berlin. By means of annual conferences and debates, the organisation mobilises citizens and democratic institutions from across Europe and draws their attention to the role that culture can play for the future of a democratic Europe. A Soul for Europe wants to crank up the debate between representatives from all levels of authority and the change-makers in the cultural and civil sector, among others with projects such as the Cultural Coalition for a Citizens’ Europe.
The European Festivals Association (EFA), supported by a number of heavyweights from the European cultural world, founded The European House for Culture (EHfC) in Brussels as a place serving those who seek to draw attention to culture in the political sphere. In 2016 EFA and EHfC presented Beyond Visions: A policy on culture in Europe, a book that includes essays on the future of the cultural policy in Europe, written by European decision-makers (members of the European Parliament and the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the European Commission).
These are interesting contributions by European policymakers that are convinced of the importance of culture to society. Unfortunately, says contributor Vania Rodrigues, that is no guarantee that political action will be taken: “Of course the challenge is a lot bigger than just “making the case” of culture and cultural policies in the context of European democratic development in the face of citizens and politicians. It is about transforming culture from a weak, subsidiary agenda into a strong public policy.” The publication is hereby issuing a call to the cultural sector to back the project of these politicians.
A more concrete action is the initiative taken by EFA, EHfC and A Soul for Europe that strives for A European Resolution on Culture. The goal of this resolution is to urge “all political and civic leaders to endorse culture as a tool to develop active citizenship and community involvement that leads to social inclusion, solidarity, responsibility and justice.” The challenge is to have this resolution adopted as an official text by the European Parliament before the end of its current legislative mandate. (A laudable initiative, even though it can be said that the wording yet again puts culture forward as an instrument and not as an objective in itself.)
So, for years already, increasingly often and at all levels, protests have been made against the subordinate place of culture in the construction of European society. It is essential that we continue doing so. But if we wish to pursue a strong policy for culture, we really need to step things up. For now let’s have a look at what could happen at the level of the member states.
The role of the member states
A lot of actions and initiatives around Europe and the role of culture mainly focus on the decision-making of the European Commission and the European Parliament. As such, it is all too often forgotten that a third institution is key in defining and implementing European policy: the European Council. This is where the national ministers we elect have the final word.
Because culture does not belong strictly speaking to the EU’s policy area, the scope of the European Ministers or Secretaries of State for Culture is limited. Their instruments are limited to incentives and recommendations and – sometimes, when the Treaties allow it – legislative measures (always in combined action with the two other institutions). And yet the decision-making in this organ has a direct influence on European initiatives, such as the Creative Europe programme. It can actually make a difference. In practice, however, the Council of Culture Ministers so far appears to be a place where initiatives for culture are weakened rather than pushed forward. Just as in other areas such as energy policy and fiscal policy, here too positive proposals of the Commission and Parliament still often clash with the short-sightedness of the member states.
Today a large number of EU member states have a cultural policy that recognises the growing transnational nature of the artistic and cultural practice. At the same time, many countries keep weighing the impact of their support measures for cultural initiatives against the extent to which these contribute to their own national culture. The intrinsic and important international character of the artistic and cultural practice is still insufficiently recognised and appreciated.
If we want change to occur, we must not only seek allies among the officials of the European Commission, but we must also call to account the politicians in the European Parliament that we elected directly. The positions adopted by ‘national’ (in the case of Flanders, regional) politicians are at least as important. Unfortunately, our politicians often still depict Europe as ‘that-level-there’ against which they are powerless, while they themselves, albeit together with their foreign colleagues, are actually running the show.
A visionary cultural policy in Europe today can only be the result of a combined action between the different policy levels, from local via national to European. No one is itching to make the EU the sole party responsible for a pure cultural policy. At the same time, however, it is completely anachronistic to see culture merely as a domestic, national matter. Permeability between European societies has increased dramatically and cultural and artistic practices are so transnational that a broader policy framework in terms of culture is necessary. In other words, the principle of subsidiarity needs to be revised.
Today a large number of EU member states – with the exception of a couple in which a dangerous form of cultural protectionism is rearing its head again – have a cultural policy that recognises the growing transnational nature of the artistic and cultural practice. At the same time, many countries keep weighing the impact of their support measures for cultural initiatives against the extent to which these contribute to their own national culture. The intrinsic and important international character of the artistic and cultural practice is still insufficiently recognised and appreciated. Today too, a domestic (or regional, even local) cultural policy should always be an international cultural policy. It is hypocritical and counterproductive to assign to Europe the task of supporting mobility and collaboration in the cultural sector while oneself not making means available to let artists and cultural actors take part in that practice.
In practice, Flanders too has largely left the support of international collaboration over to the European level (and to the sector itself). The comprehensive approach of the Arts Decree implies that the subsidies for international activities for recognised organisations are part of the total budget (block grant). This is in itself positive, but the question remains whether artists and organisations have the necessary means to realise their international mission. After all, the effective purchasing power per art organisation (both via block grant and project funding) has continued to decrease over the past decade.
Paradoxically enough, a decrease in purchasing power leads to greater international collaboration. Indeed, international partners too have to deal with shrinking budgets and therefore more international partners are necessary to achieve a project. Which again reinforces the intrinsically international character of the artistic practice. In order to make this practice more profound, more sustainable and qualitative, extra support is essential. EU programmes (from Kaleidoscope in the 1990s to the ongoing Creative Europe) are in the first instance designed as complementary to national cultural policies, not to set off shrinking national and local budgets.
In addition, the first small European programmes in support of collaboration and exchange (Raphael, Kaleidoscope, etc.) still had a rather artistic focus, but the broader the scope of the ensuing programmes, the more the focus shifted to mobility in itself, quantifiable results and other non-artistic effects such as employment, promotion, audience figures and such. So where is the support for the transnational artistic practice in itself, for the collaboration projects that are simply about the making or presenting of art in all its different manifestations?
The concern for the transnational art practice of today is the complementary responsibility of both the member states and Europe. Their division of tasks, I would suggest, could roughly look as follows: member states support artistic creation in all its aspects (including the international), while Europe is responsible for the collective reflection on that art practice and for large, future-oriented collaboration initiatives. And Europe guarantees the viability of artistic practice via a policy framework.
One way or another we urgently need to draw the attention of our own policy-makers to their responsibility. The concepts of ‘national’ and ‘international’ are increasingly irrelevant in the arts, and a cultural policy based on these concepts is obsolete. What is needed instead is to recognise the transnational nature of the art practice and the desire to reinforce, together with Europe, the quality and sustainability of that practice.
Towards a strong cultural policy for Europe
At the European level, the time is ripe to raise a few fundamental questions. The business-as-usual attitude of the European institutions is increasingly under fire, the foundations of the EU are being gnawed at here and there, and the divide between the citizen and the European institutions can no longer be ignored. European policy-makers are increasingly aware that adjustments need to be made and that the social and cultural potential also needs to be addressed if Europe wishes to endure as a social project.
What is needed is a European blueprint for a cultural policy that streamlines and acts as a guiding principle across all levels of governance: a model for positive civic values, social justice, solidarity; a framework that guarantees room for artistic creation, access to culture and cultural participation.
Can we imagine that, after the example of such measures as those that exist for the climate or for public health, Europe imposes a norm that holds for all member states and which offers minimum guarantees for the place of culture in the public domain?
That Europe works on a normative framework in which art and culture are recognised as positive forces in the construction of a society, on the local, national and transnational level? Can the European member states agree on the fundamental importance of a Culture Minister in each government of a member state?
Could Europe not impose on its member states a minimum budget to be allocated to culture? Why not devote a compulsory 2 per cent minimum to culture per state?
And should Europe not make at least 1 per cent of its own budget available to ensure that art and culture are given their rightful place in its social project? It would be a good idea if Europe also used this budget to work on the development of a decent cultural policy in each of the member states. Not to arrive at a uniform, universally applicable legal framework, but to arrive, via an exchange of good practices, trainings and consultation, at a framework of values for a local and national cultural policy of one’s own. If, in all 27 member states, including new member states, these basic guarantees exist for the place of art and culture in society, this will reinforce the power and vitality of art and culture across Europe. Far more than a programme such as Creative Europe could ever do.
It is time that we demand a policy framework for culture in Europe, and this on all levels: EU, member states, regions and cities. What is needed is a European blueprint for a cultural policy that streamlines and acts as a guiding principle across all levels of governance: a model for positive civic values, social justice, solidarity; a framework that guarantees room for artistic creation, access to culture and cultural participation.
In the medium term, Europe could focus its energy and budget, via a future Creative Europe 2.0 programme, on two concrete areas: on the one hand, providing support to larger, long-term collaboration platforms and wide-ranging collaboration projects that grow out of the sector itself, i.e. from the bottom up (such as the current European Platforms and Networks); the second facet of that programme could then focus on policy-preparatory work, whereby Europe, together with experience experts and the cultural sector (with the commons!), could work on drafting the outlines, norms and basic conditions for this European blueprint for cultural policy, a future-oriented cultural policy model for each of the member states and Europe itself.
The most important change that needs to occur is for member states to recognise culture as a full-fledged policy area at both the national and European levels. This recognition is crucial to give culture, as an essential part and motor of change, its rightful place in the European project.
This may seem like an almost insurmountable obstacle and politically unfeasible, but ‘optimism’ is, as we know, ‘a moral duty’. It is moreover particularly useful to remain focused on the main objective, above the daily slog of politically feasible steps. That will prevent us from being led down dead-end streets and from being distracted by inefficient shouting and fiddling in the margins.
In addition, we still have at our disposal another instrument that we can mobilise outside the standard channels of politics: the commons, a field of action with which we ourselves can set to work with exploratory initiatives and practices and where we can shift small and large beacons.
That will be the subject of the third and last part of this text, which will appear in the third issue of this series.
Insights shared in this article were presented at the 2017 IETM-meeting in Brussels.